Cactus Eaters

White, Dan. The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind – and Almost Found Myself – On the Pacific Crest Trail. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008.

Reason read: June is National Hiking Month.

Pure fun. From the comfort of my couch I took great pleasure in reading about Dan White’s adventures while hiking the 2,650+ mile Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. With his girlfriend Allison for companionship Dan’s account is in turn both funny and didactic. He can be snarky and scholarly in a single sentence. What starts out as an avoidance of the real world turns into a journey of self reflection and maybe, just maybe, a little growing up.
What makes Cactus such a pleasure to read is this is Dan’s account of the first time he hiked the PCT. He has no idea what he’s doing, despite reading up on it in the months leading up to the hike. He isn’t a seasoned through-hiker expertly navigating arid blazing hot deserts. He isn’t a blase professional warding off bear visits with a ho hum attitude. He is cocky in his naivete.

All time favorite line, “I could not stop the racing thoughts about Todd the Sasquatch somewhere out there, tearing up the foothills while exuding massive amounts of man sweat” (p 63).

Author fact: I could tell from the songs White enjoyed singing while on the PCT that he is about my age. An internet search revealed he was born just a few years before me.

Book trivia: The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long and covers three countries and yet White doesn’t include a single map or photograph. To be fair, his camera didn’t have film in it for part of the trip and he did include one illustration of a journal entry.

Nancy said: Nancy dedicates 25% of the chapter to describing the plot of Cactus Eaters, but not much else.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hiking the (Fill in the Blank) Trail” (p 94). Confessional: this the second book I am reading from the chapter and I just now noticed while Pearl mentions the four major long-distance trails in the Americas, she only recommends four books. Three of them are about the PCT and the final one is about the Appalachian Trail. Why bring up the Continental Divide or the American Discovery Trail if you aren’t going to include a book or two about them? There certainly was room for a few more recommendations for the chapter.


“Wild Geese”

Oliver, Mary. “Wild Geese.” Wild Geese: Selected Poems. Bloodaxe, 2004.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month

The title poem “Wild Geese” is a small slice of heaven in words. Taking just a little over a minute to read, it sends a mighty message. It’s all about hope, inspiration and self worth in the grand scheme of things. Nature is all around us and we are a part of it. We belong in the universe.

Author fact: YouTube has great videos of Mary Oliver reading “Wild Geese.” They are amazing. Check them out.

Poem trivia: I think everyone likes to quote “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry Pleasers” (p 187). As an aside, this is a the last poem I had to read for the chapter. As soon as I read Perrine’s Sound and Sense I will be finished with the entire chapter.


Silly Rabbit Comes Early

Month five of the Challenge. I have made a decision. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like this big long list with book titles crossed off. While the list of books finished looks impressive I’m not liking the overall concept. I will stick this list thing out for this year, but come December we’re doing something different. Don’t know what yet but definitely something different. Here are all the books for the year with the books for April in bold:

  1. Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  2. In a Strange City by Laura Lippman
  3. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (AB)
  4. Recognitions by William Gaddis (DNF)
  5. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  6. Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan
  7. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (AB)
  8. Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  9. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
  11. ADDED: A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  12. ADDED: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  13. ADDED: Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak
  14. ADDED: Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout
  15. ADDED: Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson (ER)
  16. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan)
  17. ADDED: The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (AB)
  18. ADDED: In Xanadu by William Dalrymple
  19. ADDED: The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  20. Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose
  21. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
  22. Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London
  23. ADDED: Alma Mater by P.F Kluge
  24. ADDED: Old Man & Me by Elaine Dundy
  25. ADDED: Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
  26. Good Life by Ben Bradlee
  27. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  28. Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban
  29. Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  30. Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan
  31. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce DNF
  32. Herb ‘n’ Lorna by Eric Kraft
  33. Polish Officer by Alan Furst – AB
  34. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Mar)
  35. ADDED: Walden by Henry David Throreau
  36. ADDED: Reservations Recommended by Eric Kraft (Mar/Feb)
  37. ADDED: Selected Letters of Norman Mailer edited by J. Michael Lennon – ER (Feb /Mar)
  38. Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle (Mar)
  39. ADDED: Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur (Mar)
  40. Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe (Mar)
  41. Lives of the Muses by Francine Prose (Mar)
  42. Broom of the System (David Wallace (Mar)
  43. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  44. ADDED: Little Follies by Eric Kraft (Apr/Feb)
  45. ADDED: Literary Murder by Batya Gur (Apr)
  46. ADDED: Bob Marley, My Son by Cedella Marley Booker (ER)
  47. ADDED: Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Mar)
  48. ADDED: Southern Mail by Antoine de Saint- Exupery (Mar/Apr)
  49. ADDED: Measure of All Things, the by Ken Alder (Apr) AB
  50. Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson (Apr)
  51. Royal Flash by George Fraser (Apr)
  52. Fifties by David Halberstam (Apr)
  53. Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur (Apr)
  54. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  55. Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  56. ADDED: Where Do You Stop? by Eric Kraft (May/Feb)
  57. Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur (May)
  58. Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser (May)
  59. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (May)
  60. Petra: lost city by Christian Auge (May)
  61. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (May)
  62. Jordan by E. Borgia (May)
  63. Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (May)
  64. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May)
  65. Flash at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser (May)
  66. ADDED: What a Piece of Work I Am by Eric Kraft (Jun/Feb)
  67. Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett (Jun)
  68. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Jun)
  69. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (Jun)
  70. Millstone by Margaret Drabble (Jun)
  71. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  72. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  73. At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft (Jul/Feb)
  74. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (Jul)
  75. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme (Jul)
  76. New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc (Jul)
  77. Grifters by Jim Thompson (Jul)
  78. Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Jul)
  79. Snow Angels by James Thompson (Jul)
  80. Ararchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Aug)
  81. ADDED: Leaving Small’s Hotel by Eric Kraft (Aug/Feb)
  82. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (Aug)
  83. Possession by AS Byatt (Aug)
  84. In the Footsteps of Ghanghis Khan by John DeFrancis (Aug)
  85. What Just Happened by James Gleick (Aug)
  86. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Aug)
  87. ADDED: Inflating a Dog by Eric Kraft (Sep/Feb)
  88. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill (Sep)
  89. Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser (Sep)
  90. Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (Sep)
  91. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (Sep)
  92. Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Sep)
  93. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sep)
  94. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (Oct)
  95. Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Oct)
  96. Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (Oct)
  97. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser (Oct)
  98. Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
  99. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Collin Cotterill (Nov)
  100. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
  101. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
  102. Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)

DNF = Did Not Finish; AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review


Walden

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden or, Life in the Woods. New York: Signet Classic, 1980.

There are several words that come to mind when I think of Thoreau and his work, Walden. Right up front I have to say Walden is important, even necessary. Every student needs to read it at least once in his or her academic career, whether it be high school, college or as a postgraduate. As I said it’s important. But, there are other words that bubble to the surface as I read: didactic, preachy, bloviate. If Thoreau had kept his commentary restricted to his personal efforts to live a simple life and not generalized all of mankind it would have been a less frustrating read. At least for me. Case in point, Walden borrows an axe from a neighbor to build his house. He feels the need to point out “The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it” (p 32). His implication is, despite what the man said Thoreau cared for the instrument better than the owner. Couldn’t he just been grateful for borrowing the damned axe? As a former islander who lived on very little I know the importance of living simply. I just wish the reminder didn’t come as such a lecture.

As an aside, when Mailer read Walden he wasn’t impressed.

Reason read: Massachusetts became a state in February.

Author fact: Thoreau is probably better known for his work, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

Book trivia: My copy of Walden included an afterword by Perry Miller and a revised and updated bibliography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Walk Right In” (p 250).


Chasing Monarchs

Pyle, Robert Michael. Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Robert Michael Pyle (I just like using his whole name) set out to answer three questions about monarch butterflies:

  1. How do they physically do the migrating that they do?
  2. Do they navigate or follow the wind? and lastly,
  3. Why do some monarchs end up in Mexico and others in California.

My off the cuff answers would be: 1) They train. 2) Both navigation and following the wind (I like to think of butterflies riding the jet stream), and 3) I think the ones who didn’t train hard enough for Mexico, when they reached CA, said, “close enough!” I know I would!

Much like Where Bigfoot Walks, Chasing Monarchs is all about chasing something elusive, something nearly impossible to track. Like Bigfoot, Chasing Monarchs is awash with lush descriptions of the landscapes Pyle traverses; this time British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada and California with a little dip into Mexico. I find it amazing Pyle was able to tag butterflies without hurting them. What I didn’t notice with Bigfoot is Pyle’s kaleidoscope use of colors. Here are a bunch of them from Chasing Monarchs: sage, umber, bronze, blonde, amethyst, yellow, ocher, brown, yellow, burnt sienna, apricot, coral, conch, mauve, french vanilla, buff, crimson, purple, chartreuse, beige, gold, green, cerise, emerald, indigo, jade, honey, cream, blue, copper, lime, olive, turquoise, chocolate, maroon, flesh, silver, lemon, rust, fawn, blueberry, pearl, ultramarine, wheat, cinnamon, rose, russet, persimmon, tan, and scarlet. Then there are the hyphenated colors: ham-pink, chalky-white, Mylar-blue, marine-blue, toast-brown, fox-red, fire-engine red, candy-apple red, matte-black, coal-black, and cat-black. And all the oranges: mandarin-orange, orange-juice, orange-yellow, oriole-orange, Halloween-orange, yellow-orange and lox-orange. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. One aspect of color that I didn’t appreciate is that Mr. Pyle needed to describe black folks. He doesn’t say, “I met up with so-and-so, a white woman from Omaha” but he will point out “the black family on the banks fishing.”

Reason read: March is supposedly insect month. Yay bugs!

Author fact: Pyle also wrote Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide which I read in September of 2010. I also learned that Pyle is a man who likes to name inanimate objects. His butterfly net is Marsha. His car is Powdermilk. He has an ornament hanging from his rear-view mirror named Danae.

Book trivia: Unfortunately, even though Pyle states that most people call all big and beautiful orange and black butterflies “monarchs” he doesn’t include any photographs to educate people on the differences. I would have liked some lush, vivid photographs! Even some illustrations would have been nice.

As an aside, I had been very excited to read Chasing Monarchs for some time now. Monhegan Island has annual migration of monarchs every late summer/early fall. As kids we used to watch their fiery orange and black wings beat against reedy pale green milkweeds by the dozens. Also, I would like to thank Mr. Pyle on clearing up a mystery for me. Monhegan has these weird orange spaghetti-like vines growing down at Pebble Beach. I have always wanted to look them up. I now know they are called Dodder weeds.

Convergence: Reading this was a natural extension of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 70).


Changing It Up January

A new year deserves new things; new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Here is the list I promised in December. Instead of separating the list into “finished” and “still to go”, I thought for this go-round I would just cross off the titles I finished. This system will force me to stay on top of the books I add, but we’ll see…Just testing something…

As an aside, I gave up completely on Robert Jordan. Sorry.

  1. Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  2. In a Strange City by Laura Lippman
  3. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (AB)
  4. Recognitions by William Gaddis (DNF)
  5. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  6. Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan
  7. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (AB)
  8. Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  9. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
  11. ADDED: A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  12. ADDED: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  13. ADDED: Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak
  14. ADDED: Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout
  15. ADDED: Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson (ER)
  16. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan)
  17. Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose (Jan)
  18. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore (Jan)
  19. Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London (Jan)
  20. ADDED: Alma Mater by P.F Kluge (Jan)
  21. Good Life by Ben Bradlee (Feb)
  22. Underworld by Don DeLillo (Feb)
  23. Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban (Feb)
  24. Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton ((Feb)
  25. Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan (Feb)
  26. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (Feb)
  27. At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft (Feb)
  28. Polish Officer by Alan Furst (Feb)
  29. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Mar)
  30. Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle (Mar)
  31. Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur (Mar)
  32. Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe (Mar)
  33. Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose (Mar)
  34. Broom of the System (David Wallace (Mar)
  35. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  36. Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson (Apr)
  37. Royal Flash by George Fraser (Apr)
  38. Fifties by David Halberstam (Apr)
  39. Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur (Apr)
  40. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  41. Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (May)
  42. Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser (May)
  43. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (May)
  44. Petra: lost city by Christian Auge (May)
  45. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (May)
  46. Jordan by E. Borgia (May)
  47. Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (May)
  48. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May)
  49. Flash at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser (May)
  50. Castles in the Air by Judt Corbett (Jun)
  51. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Jun)
  52. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (Jun)
  53. Millstone by Margaret Drabble (Jun)
  54. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan (Jun)
  55. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (Jul)
  56. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (Jul)
  57. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme (Jul)
  58. New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc (Jul)
  59. Grifters by Jim Thompson (Jul)
  60. Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Jul)
  61. Snow Angels by James Thompson (Jul)
  62. Ararchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Aug)
  63. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (Aug)
  64. Possession by AS Byatt (Aug)
  65. In the Footsteps of Ghanghis Khan by John DeFrancis (Aug)
  66. What Just Happened by James Gleick (Aug)
  67. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Aug)
  68. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill (Sep)
  69. Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser (Sep)
  70. Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (Sep)
  71. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (Sep)
  72. Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Sep)
  73. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sep)
  74. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (Oct)
  75. Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Oct)
  76. Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (Oct)
  77. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser (Oct)
  78. Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
  79. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Collin Cotterill (Nov)
  80. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
  81. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
  82. Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)

DNF = Did Not Finish;AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review

So, right off the bat I see something I don’t like. When I add new books they don’t get their “day in the sun” so to speak. I add them to the list and then cross them off immediately. That doesn’t seem fair.


“The Road Not Taken”

Frost, Robert. “the Road Not Taken.” The Road Not Taken and Other Poems.New York: Dover Publications, 1993.

This is such a simple poem with such a complex meaning! But, having said that, how many people have used this poem to explain the things that they have done; the decisions they have made? My uncle read this poem at his brother’s funeral. His message was clear – my father, seven years his junior, chose a much different path than him or even the rest of the family. My father chose love over money. Happiness over family. My uncle offered this poem as an explanation for why they weren’t close as brothers but I also think he was (finally) voicing how proud he was of that courageous decision “to take the road less traveled.” It’s the last line that drives the point home. It has made all the difference. I know it did in my father’s short life.

Reason read: National Poetry Month. Need I say more?

Author fact: Robert Frost is one of the best known, best loved poets. We also associate Frost with New England but he was born in California.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237).